Q: My job has recently changed to require me to telecommute much of the time. I’m used to being part of a large, cohesive team, and am struggling with feelings of isolation. It’s hard to stay energized — what suggestions do you have?
A: Make a point of building and maintaining connections, even though the form may have changed.
The inner game
Change can be difficult, especially if it is unsought. And it sounds like this change comes with some losses for you at an emotional level. Acknowledge this so that unexpressed feelings don’t sabotage you down the road, taking some time to breathe through the feelings, and get ready to think about possibilities.
Now, consider the factors in your previous arrangement that worked for you. For example, being in an office provides a lot of day-to-day structure, as well as easy access to social engagement.
Think each of these through so that you can develop priorities for the steps you take to make telecommuting work for you.
Also think about the parts of being in the office that you won’t miss so much. Most people don’t particularly enjoy commuting, for example. Or a neighbor in cube-land with annoying personal habits.
Turning your attention to the realities of working from home, and focus on the advantages of that arrangement. You may enjoy being able to fix your own lunch, take breaks in your living room, or have fewer hassles arranging for repair people to come.
Bring this all together to make a list of the benefits of being home that you want to enjoy, and the gaps that you want to remedy.
The outer game
Focusing on three key areas will help keep you moving: space, time and relationships.
Where do you work? In some homes, you may have a dedicated area you can use; in others, you may be at the dining room table. Wherever it is, design the space to give you a “work” vibe. Particularly if you have a multi-use area, invent ways to convert it to your desk, and then turn it back into family space when you’re done. Be sure work feels convenient, too. Office spaces are designed with convenient storage and decent ergonomics. Make an effort to bring those principles home.
When do you work? Having a daily structure can be very energizing. Have a work start time that you hold yourself to, and also take breaks (not just running down to do laundry).
While your end time may fluctuate depending on the day, make a conscious decision each day — “I’m done with work” — so that it doesn’t just filter into your evening.
From the very beginning, maintain relationships and build new ones.
If you use instant messaging in your company, it can be your best friend for connecting you with people. Set up phone calls to chat with co-workers during breaks; even schedule virtual “lunches” so that you can maintain the social side. Share challenges and successes in telecommuting, too, so you learn from each other.
The last word
Remaining energized and motivated can be more challenging without a visible support system, but it can be achieved with planning and disciplined action.